Family Safari – Entabeni Safari Conservancy
After a brief stopover in Johannesburg to get over our jet lag, we headed to our first game reserve – the Entabeni Safari Conservancy.
Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 1
A slight miscalculation in travel times (turns out you have to add a bit extra to Google Maps travel times in South Africa) and some time taken to see some sights in Pretoria meant that we didn’t arrive at the Entabeni Safari Conservancy in time for lunch like we had planned. Fortunately, the friendly staff at Honeyguide Ranger Camp whipped up a light meal for us which we ate by the pool.We finished just in time for our first game drive.
Climbing into our game drive vehicle, we met our guide Cuan. We joined another group who were sharing the vehicle with us, a three-generational group of South Africans (a couple of them now living in the U.S.). With great anticipation we headed off for our first game drive of the trip.
We weren’t very far away from camp when we started seeing some wildlife, starting with a wildebeest. These guys are abundant on the reserve.
Shortly after, we saw our first giraffe. These elegant creatures are known as the models of the bush, often striking very photogenic poses. This was the first of many, many pictures of giraffe that I would end up taking on our trip.
The Entabeni Safari Conservancy is set in former farmland that has been stocked with wildlife. It is now managed for wildlife conservation, as well as tourism, with a number of lodges hosting guests who come to see the wildlife. We chose this as our first game reserve experience as a “warm-up” for Kruger National Park. It was also a good introduction to the game lodge routine for Lachlan. Being former farmland, there are a number of dams and ponds that are a home for waterfowl as well as a source of drinking water for the animals.
Multiple lodges in Entabeni mean that sometimes you end up sharing wildlife viewing with other people. This does have the advantage that the drivers from different lodges work together to find elusive game. They communicate by radio, giving everyone a chance to see the full range of animals on the reserve.
After seeing some of the more common animals, we headed toward an area where hoped to see some elephants. There are a relatively small number of elephants here, and they tend to be a bit reclusive. After some fruitless time searching, it was time to stop for sundowners. This is a game reserve tradition, that occurs on every evening game drive. As the sun goes down, the guide finds a safe, open area and stops to allow guests to get out of the vehicle to stretch their legs and enjoy a cocktail while watching the sun go down. We usually choose a gin and tonic for our sundowner beverage. It seems appropriate in Africa.
While we were enjoying our sundowner, the elusive elephants emerged from the bush. After finishing our drinks, we got back in the vehicle and headed for a closer view. It was hard to see them in the gloom, and they soon disappeared again into some heavy scrub, but it was great to get our first view of these giant creatures for the trip (and Lachlan’s first time to see one in the wild).
Honeyguide Ranger Camp
A few words about our accommodation in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Honeyguide Ranger Camp. It’s a classic tented safari camp, meaning that you sleep under canvas, but the standard is definitely more like “glamping” than regular camping. In fact, our particular unit was the most amazing tent I have ever experienced – and the only two story tent I have ever stayed in. Lachlan had his own separate bedroom upstairs.
We chose Honeyguide Ranger Camp after an extensive online search looking for safari lodge accommodation that was (relatively) affordable and would accept kids. Many safari lodges are adults-only, but Honeyguide Ranger camp not only accepts children, they make them welcome. The guides and staff were friendly and very patient with kids. We let slip that Lachlan’s birthday was the day we were leaving, and the kitchen staff surprised him with a birthday cake after breakfast.
You’ll notice that I said earlier that Honeyguide Ranger Camp is “relatively” affordable. There is no escaping the fact that staying in a safari lodge on a game reserve costs more than staying in a regular hotel. The truly budget accommodation options tend to be found outside the game reserves, although later in the trip we stayed in a youth hostel in Swaziland that is located inside a reserve.
Offsetting the cost somewhat, all activities and meals are included in the nightly rate. Some places also include unlimited drinks, but these tend to be the places that are very expensive. Frankly, fancier accommodation doesn’t make the animal viewing any better, and that is the point of a safari vacation.
Safari Lodge Routine
A typical daily schedule at a game lodge goes something like this:
Very Early: You wake up when you hear the drums. Throw some clothes on and gather for coffee and rusks (a South African hard cookie/biscuit – good for dunking in your coffee).
Early-Mid Morning: The morning game drive, starting around sunrise. Somewhere on the drive you stop at a scenic spot for coffee and to stretch your legs.
Late Morning: Back to camp for a very hearty breakfast/brunch.
Noon – Early Afternoon: Time to relax. Take a nap, read a book. Sometimes there are options for a guided walk in the bush.
Around 2 pm: A fairly light lunch before the next game drive.
Mid Afternoon: The afternoon game drive begins.
Sundown: The guide finds a good spot to watch the sunset and have a cocktail. This is followed by the drive back to camp while a guide with a spotlight looks for nocturnal creatures.
Early Evening: You eat dinner soon after arriving back at camp. Sitting around the fire after dinner telling stories and comparing sightings is a traditional safari activity. But remember, the drums will be beating very early the next morning …
Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 2
The first highlight of our morning game drive was seeing the shy and extremely cute Steenbok. This is one of the smaller antelopes native to South Africa.
I managed to capture a shot of a giraffe that sums up the Entabeni Safari Conservancy’s blend of great scenery and game viewing.
We also had our first sighting of zebra for the trip on this drive.
As the sun got higher in the sky, our guide asked us if we were up for an adventure. Of course, we said “yes”, so he headed up a very rough and steep trail. We ended up at an elevated view point with great views across the reserve. This is where we stopped for coffee and to stretch our legs.
After our coffee break, we headed off in search of more animal action. We soon came across a pair of rhinos, and our guide parked the vehicle pointing into the bush so we could watch them for a while.
One of the rhinos grazed his way toward us. Our cameras kept clicking as he approached.
Amazingly, he just kept coming toward us. He ended up passing so close to the vehicle it was difficult to photograph such a big beast at such close range. He wasn’t aggressive or disturbed at any time, and we all sat in silence and enjoyed the encounter. It all seemed oddly peaceful and exciting at the same time.
On the way back to camp for brunch, a group of warthogs provided some comic relief.
When we had finished brunch, Heide had a nap while Lachlan and I went for a walk to the camp library. As well as books about South African wildlife, there were specimens of skulls, eggs and other educational displays. The Honeyguide Ranger Camp library overlooks the camp waterhole, and some warthogs showed up to entertain us with their antics.
After a light lunch we headed out for our afternoon game drive. The other family we were sharing the vehicle with had left the camp after brunch, so Heide, Lachlan and I had the vehicle and guide all to ourselves. We saw some more animals that we had seen before on previous drives before getting the exciting news that another guide had spotted a cheetah and her cubs. We headed towards the area of the reported sighting and began searching for them.
At first, we thought the cheetah had hidden up in some thick bush and we weren’t going to be able to see her. However, our guide persisted, and eventually he found her. She and her cubs were quite a way back from the road, so it was difficult to get a clear picture. However, it was great to see our first big cat for the trip.
The other interesting sight for the afternoon was a giraffe at a salt lick. Because the Entabeni Safari Conservancy is a limited geographical area, the animals don’t get everything they need in their diets from food available to them on the reserve. The salt lick is one of the ways the animals’ natural diet is supplemented. For a giraffe, reaching ground level is quite a project. First, the giraffe needs to make sure no predators are in the area. While it has its head near the ground it is vulnerable to attack. It can’t run away quickly due to the position it has to get its legs in to reach the ground.
Soon after, it was time for our sundowner, closing out a great day’s game viewing.
Entabeni Safari Conservancy – Day 3
The next day we planned to drive to our next destination, Hazyview, to see the Panorama Route and spend a day in Kruger National Park. We calculated that we would have time for the morning game drive and brunch before we had to get on the road.
We started our morning drive with a pretty view of the sunrise.
We spent the first part of the drive trying to get another look at the elephants, in broad daylight this time. After some fruitless search time, we caught a glimpse of something moving in the trees. We had found the herd, moving along parallel to the road.
We got our best view when a bull elephant emerged onto the road ahead of us. He wanted to use the road (and we wanted to let him), so our guide did some fancy reversing to get out of his way. We had to move quickly, so unfortunately I didn’t have time to get a picture. After that excitement, we found a spot to stop for our coffee break and have our guide take a family portrait to commemorate our time in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy and Honeyguide Ranger Camp.
Heading back for camp to eat brunch before we packed to leave, we stopped for one more special sighting – a baby hippo that had emerged from the river.
Just before we got back to camp we saw a mixed group of wildebeest and zebras, and that wrapped up our adventures in the Entabeni Safari Conservancy. After another hearty brunch (topped off by Lachlan’s surprise birthday cake) we hit the road and headed to our next destination, the town of Hazyview, just outside Kruger National Park.
While not action packed with as many predators as Kruger National Park, the Entabeni Safari Conservancy is a great place to get an authentic safari experience. Also, the scenery is spectacular. It’s only a few hours drive from Johannesburg, so great for a side trip from Johannesburg for people who don’t have time to get further afield to the more remote parks and reserves. It’s in a malaria-free area, so a good choice for people with small kids. We’d recommend Honeyguide Ranger Camp, but there are other accommodation options in the reserve as well.